All things strange and beautiful
NEW EXHIBITION OPENS 12TH OCTOBER 2011. Et A unicorn's horn, the thigh bone of a giant and a tree root grown around a horse's jaw. All things strange and beautiful is the new exhibition opening at the Geological Museum, showing weird and wonderful objects and the stories which go with them, originally collected in Denmark's very first museum: the 17th century Museum Wormianum. The exhibition is based on the One Room installation, which is the renowned American artist Rosamond Purcell's interpretation of the old museum.
"With All things strange and beautiful we are presenting original objects from both the Museum Wormianum and The Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, but also lots of wonderful contemporary stories, theories and interpretations linked to the objects. For example, that lemmings are born in the clouds and fall down from the sky, that birds of paradise have no feet and spend their whole lives in the air, or that what we now know as narwhal tusks actually come from unicorns. 'All things strange and beautiful' is thus an exhibition which is not just about things but about people's fascination with and relationship to those things", says Hanne Strager, head of public outreach at the Danish Natural History Museum.
The Museum Wormianum was created by the physician Ole Worm in the early years of the 17th century and consisted mainly of a wide-ranging collection of natural specimens: stuffed animals, dried plants and rocks and minerals from all over the world. It wasn't just Denmark's first museum, but one of the first museums anywhere in the world. After Ole Worm's death, his collection passed to the king, Frederik III. He was also a keen collector and was the first Danish king to create a 'Kunstkammer', which was a related phenomenon of the times, but focusing rather more on artistic and ethnographic treasures. So Worm's natural history collection became part of the Royal 'Kunstkammer' or Cabinet of Curiosities.
After Worm's death, a book was also published which catalogued and described the objects in his collection. The frontispiece featured a unique and now famous copper-plate engraving of the museum. This illustration inspired American artist Rosamond Purcell to recreate Ole Worm's museum in her One Room installation, which is also part of All things strange and beautiful.
Understanding the world
All things strange and beautiful is above all a magical journey back to the world of the Renaissance collectors, but the exhibition also offers an insight into how the early scientists were interpreting and categorising the world.
We might easily smile when we hear about the 17th century interpretations of narwhal tusks and their assumptions about birds of paradise, but modern day scientists also carry the baggage of assumptions and a set way of thinking which it's hard to look beyond. Future generations will doubtless have a chuckle over some of the conclusions today's researchers have come to on the basis of their observations of nature, even though we don't yet know which of our current ideas will prove to be fanciful.